by Bob Roehr
Washington, DC – U.S. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and two other members of Congress began what is likely to be an arduously long campaign to reform the nation’s marijuana laws, at a Capitol Hill news conference on July 30.
“The vast amount of human activity ought to be none of the government’s business,” it shouldn’t “tell you how to spend your leisure time.”
Frank made the comparison with alcohol where use but not abuse is tolerated and said the government should make that same differentiation with marijuana use.
H.R. 5843 would eliminate most federal penalties for possession of marijuana for personal use. While a dozen states have passed laws allowing for medical use of marijuana, none have enacted broader “decriminalization” of its use, though a small number of local jurisdictions have done so.
Frank said a primary reason for this bill is to backstop another proposed piece of legislation that would halt federal prosecutions of persons using marijuana for medical purposes. “If we were to do only medical marijuana, under an administration like the one we have now, they would be contesting the medical judgments.”
“Law abiding citizens have been harassed, and I mean really harassed, for growing marijuana for medical purposes,” said Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), “Taxpayer dollars should not be spent on spending terminally or seriously ill patients to jail. It is inhumane and immoral.”
Rep. William Clay (D-Missouri) called most the prosecution of marijuana “a phony war on drugs that is filling up our prisons, especially with people of color.” The impact extends far beyond the arrest because such a mark on one’s record can make them ineligible for student loans, food stamps, public housing, and other federally assisted programs.
Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), said 47 percent of all drug arrests in this country are for marijuana; another marijuana smoker is arrested every 38 seconds.” More people are arrested for pot use than all violent crimes combined.
“Ending [federal] arrests is the key to marijuana policy reform,” said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project. He added, it is particularly important to remove the fear of arrest for those people who are allowed to use marijuana for medical purposes in the states in which they live.
But the drug warriors were having none of it. The Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) released a report called “Marijuana: The greatest cause of illegal drug abuse.”
In a statement handed out at the news conference, ONDCP director John Walters said, “Baby Boomers have this perception that marijuana is about fun and freedom. It isn’t. It’s about dependency, disease, and dysfunction…Too many of us are in denial and it is time for an intervention.”
Frank hopes that there might be hearings on the bill next year. Should it eventually pass, he said the most immediate effect would be on those states that have medical marijuana provisions.